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Article

Although militias have received increasing scholarly attention, the concept itself remains contested by those who study it. Why? And how does this impact contemporary scholarship on political violence? To answer these questions, we can focus on the field of militia studies in post–Cold War sub-Saharan Africa, an area where militia studies have flourished in the past several decades. Virtually all scholars of militias in post–Cold War Africa describe militias as fluid and changing such that they defy easy definition. As a result, scholars offer complex descriptors that incorporate both descriptive and analytic elements, thereby offering nuanced explanations for the role of militias in violent conflict. Yet the ongoing tension between accurate description and analytic definition has also produced a body of literature that is diffuse and internally inconsistent, in which scholars employ conflicting definitions of militias, different data sources, and often incompatible methods of analysis. As a result, militia studies yield few externally valid comparative insights and have limited analytic power. The cumulative effect is a schizophrenic field in which one scholar’s militia is another’s rebel group, local police force, or common criminal. The resulting incoherence fragments scholarship on political violence and can have real-world policy implications. This is particularly true in high-stakes environments of armed conflict, where being labeled a “militia” can lead to financial support and backing in some circumstances or make one a target to be eliminated in others. To understand how militia studies has been sustained as a fragmented field, this article offers a new typology of definitional approaches. The typology shows that scholars use two main tools: offering a substantive claim as to what militias are or a negative claim based on what militias are not and piggy-backing on other concepts to either claim that militias are derivative of or distinct from them. These approaches illustrate how scholars combine descriptive and analytic approaches to produce definitions that sustain the field as fragmented and internally contradictory. Yet despite the contradictions that characterize the field, scholarship reveals a common commitment to using militias to understand the organization of (legitimate) violence. This article sketches a possible approach to organize the field of militia studies around the institutionalization of violence, such that militias would be understood as a product of the arrangement of violence. Such an approach would both allow studies of militias to place their ambiguity and fluidity at the center of analyses while offering a pathway forward for comparative studies.

Article

Interstate conflict has been rare in sub-Saharan Africa and militaries often do not fit the image of a force focused on external threats. Instead, they have often been heavily engaged in domestic politics, regularly serving as regime protection. For many militaries on the continent, the continued internal focus of the armed forces has been shaped by practices under colonialism. One defining feature of African militaries’ involvement in politics is the coup d’état. From the 1960s to the 1980s coups were the primary method of regime change, making the military central to the political landscape of the continent. By the start of the 21st century there were far fewer direct attempts at military control of African states, yet militaries continue to influence politics even under civilian leadership. While there are differences in the role of militaries based on the unique circumstances of each state, there are also general patterns regarding new missions undertaken by armed forces following the end of the Cold War. These include peacekeeping, counterterrorism, and humanitarian assistance, all of which generally involve international partnerships and cooperation. Yet these missions have also had domestic political motivations and effects.

Article

When, how, why, and to what effect did the military involve itself in Serbia’s politics? Due to its decisive role in national liberation and state-building, the Serbian military has always enjoyed high societal reputation. Since the 19th century, the military also played an important role of a nation-builder and social elevator for the lower strata of society. However, Serbia also has a very long tradition of military involvement in politics with several coups that decisively shaped the course of national history. Since the outset of Serbia’s state-building in the first half of the 19th century, Serbia experienced four successful military coups and many occasions when its armed forces were used to quash domestic unrest. The reasons behind the robust involvement of armed forces in Serbian (and Yugoslav politics) have been diverse and ranged from an ambition to provide internal stability and defend national or corporate interests to a desire to change the country’s foreign policy orientation. Since the end of the Cold War, the military played an ambiguous role on some occasions undermining democracy, while on others being an agent of democratic transformation. Since 2006, the military of Serbia has been placed under civilian democratic control and seems to have internalized its role of a politically neutral and professional force with a mission to defend the country, support civilian authorities in the event of emergency, and contribute to international peace and security. Still, the ongoing democratic backsliding, the lack of clarity about the state’s strategic outlook, and the still unresolved status of Serbia’s former province Kosovo all preserve the potential for civil-military tensions in the future.

Article

The Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF), unlike their counterparts in many other parts of the Middle East, have never taken power in a coup. The military has no direct role in governance, but its shadow looms large in Jordanian politics, especially as the kingdom has been challenged by regional wars, internal conflicts, and (after 2010) by the domestic and regional effects of the Arab Spring (Arab uprisings). The only time Jordan came close to a military coup was in 1957, in an era marked by heightened pan-Arab nationalism and politicization of armed forces across the Arab world. But that coup was foiled almost as soon as it began, leaving the armed forces thereafter to cast themselves as the protectors not only of the country but also of the Hashemite monarchy. Jordan’s armed forces fought in multiple wars with Israel, including in 1948 and 1967, with a more limited role in the 1973 Arab–Israeli war. The military was also involved intensely in internal conflict, especially in 1970–1971, when King Hussein’s armed forces clashed with the guerilla forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Although they never overthrew the state nor established a military government in Jordan, the Jordanian Armed Forces nonetheless played a large role in Jordanian politics, society, and even in the economy. The military was also part of a broader array of security institutions, including the intelligence services, the police, and the gendarmerie. An aid-dependent country with limited resources, Jordan faced countless fiscal crises over the years, but its military and security budgets continued to grow. Hashemite kings have tended to dote on the armed forces, ensuring large budgets and the latest in arms and equipment. Even the regime’s attempt to cultivate a strong Jordanian national identity was deeply rooted in the images of the military, the monarchy itself, and the other key security institutions. But while the military’s influence loomed large in public life, it did not necessarily reflect a broad range of Jordanian society, being drawn heavily from Jordan’s tribal, rural, and East Jordanian communities, rather than from more urban, largely Palestinian-Jordanian communities. But in the era of the Arab uprisings across the Middle East (especially after 2010), military veterans—especially those with tribal and East Jordanian roots—played ever more vocal roles in Jordanian politics, remaining loyal to the monarchy, but also feeling empowered to lecture the monarchy about perceived flaws in social and economic policies. The personnel in Jordan’s military and security institutions, in short, were drawn from the same tribes, regions, and communities that were most fervently challenging the regime and its policies in the Arab Spring era, changing the nature of Jordanian politics itself.

Article

Matej Navrátil and Michal Onderco

The civil-military relations in Slovakia have been marked by rapid transformation after the collapse of communism, including the expansion of the civilian power over armed forces, a gradual shift that has meant a great loss of autonomy for the armed forces. The dominance of civilians over the military happened through various means. First and foremost, there was a massive legal and legislative shift in the institutional distribution of power. However, the power of civilians over the military has been cemented through the adoption of a business-like structure, a change in military education, as well as “the power of the purse.” Overall, Slovakia’s case is not unique among the countries of the former communist bloc, where the desire to integrate into NATO and the EU has led to significant changes in the way the domestic societies are organized. However, Slovakia’s case is interesting because it demonstrates that the establishment of civilian dominance over the military can potentially lead to absurd consequences such as the inability to pay petty expenses. Notably, the desire to integrate in NATO led Slovakia to adopt numerous external recommendations with far-reaching consequences for domestic legislation. In a process that is not unlike what the scholars of European integration call “Europeanization,” Slovakia’s case shows that the goal to demonstrate one’s readiness to join international organizations can lead to a complete transformation in the nation’s defense policy. Conversely, and perhaps more speculatively, if one were to perceive civilian control over the military as the total subordination of all its components to the elected representatives, the situation is much less straightforward in the case of military intelligence. Under Vladimír Mečiar (in 1994–1998), the state secret (civilian) and security apparatus served not the public interest, but the interest of the ruling coalition. Military intelligence, however, remained autonomous and was not exploited to serve to Mečiar. Although from the normative standpoint, this might be perceived as a positive development, it demonstrates that this component of the military was at that time out of the government’s reach, even the reach of an authoritative ruler such as Mečiar.

Article

Argentina has moved through two defining eras. The first was one of military coups and dictatorships that repeatedly interrupted democratic periods of governance. The second has been one of uninterrupted democratic rule marked by firm military subordination to civilian control. From 1930 to 1976, the Argentine armed forces cut short the tenure of every democratically elected head of state. Eleven of 16 presidents during this period were generals. Military coups in Argentina were brought on by a combination of factors, including societal pressures, tactical and strategic blunders on the part of political leaders, and the military’s own thirst for power and privileges. Militaries would eventually leave power, but their repeated interventions would weaken respect for democratic processes. The last coup, which occurred in 1976, marked a turning point, giving rise to an authoritarian regime that spelled political, economic, and military disaster for the nation. So disgusted was the public with the dictatorship’s incompetence and brutality that it discovered a newfound respect for democratic rules of the game. The demise of the Proceso dictatorship helped usher in a long and unbroken period of democratic rule. Still, contemporary Argentine democratic governments have had to grapple with civil-military issues. Notable progress has been made, including the holding of human rights trials, the enactment of laws that restrict the military’s use in internal security, and the strengthening of the defense ministry. Notwithstanding a few rebellions in the late 1980s, the Argentine armed forces have remained firmly under civilian control since the return of democracy. Nonetheless, administrations have varied in their abilities and motivation to enact reforms.

Article

David Altman and Nicole Jenne

Scholars have paid little attention to the Uruguayan armed forces, an institution that has never been fully entrusted with the country’s external security. This is explained by Uruguay’s geographical condition as a buffer state, sandwiched between South America’s biggest countries, Brazil and Argentina. The power differential with either one of them has rendered the prospect of a viable defense futile. Accordingly, those who have studied the Uruguayan military concur that it has traditionally had difficulties finding a place and recognition within the state and society. Throughout its history, the military has been a rather weak institution mostly subordinate to democratic control. After the creation of Uruguay in 1828, it took several decades until a truly national military was established. The late 19th and early 20th century represent an exception in the country’s history as the armed forces underwent a modernization process backed by government resources. Military professionalization consolidated civilian control. Yet, soon after, the strengthening of democratic institutions and a high degree of social stability maneuvered the armed forces into a position of political neglect. This changed rather abruptly in the late 1960s, when a severe social, economic, and political crisis drove the ruling elites to call upon the armed forces to restore order. The military launched a coup d’état in 1973 and remained in power until 1985, when a negotiated transition put an end to the dictatorship and the U.S.-supported National Security Doctrine. Subsequent democratic governments gradually reestablished civilian control and reduced the budget and size of the institution. However, given the stigmas from the dictatorship, together with the traditionally low esteem in which the military has been held, politicians have been slow in taking on necessary reforms in the military and defense sectors. Political neglect has allowed the armed forces considerable autonomy in military and defense policymaking, due to lack of civilian involvement. The decision to have the armed forces participate in UN peacekeeping—since 1992, Uruguay has almost consistently been among the top peacekeeping contributors per capita—has provided solutions to a number of pending questions regarding the role of the armed forces. Participation in peacekeeping allows for financial resources to supplement military salaries and acquisition funds. It provides the armed forces with a mission and has brought them closer to the civilian foreign policy elite. Yet, Uruguay still seems to wonder whether the country wants to have its armed forces.

Article

Benin and Togo’s postcolonial histories have been shaped by the actions of military personnel. In both cases, governments were either placed into power or toppled by the military. This trend ended in Benin after 1991, when the military returned to the barracks. In Togo, as of 2020, Faure Gnassingbé’s government still relies on the armed forces to remain in power. To understand this path divergence, it is necessary to look at the regimes that arose in 1967 in Togo and 1972 in Benin. After years of coup cycles and failed civilian or military governments, two leaders—Mathieu Kérékou in Benin and Étienne Gnassingbé Eyadéma in Togo—established stable military governments. In order to end coup cycles, both leaders put in place coup-proofing measures that profoundly influenced the composition of the armed forces of their respective countries. In Benin, the Kérékou government implemented a series of measures to heighten divisions among the armed forces and to preclude the coordination of rivals. In Togo, the Eyadéma government filled the army with those from the leader’s ethnic group and pushed out any rivals. While both strategies were effective, as no successful coups were staged in either country after the early 1970s, they also influenced each government’s ability to rely on their armed forces to defend the standing regime. In Benin, the Kérékou government fell, as it could not rely on the armed forces to quell a civic resistance campaign, while in Togo, the Eyadéma government could count on military personnel to crush a similar campaign. Consequently, the 2020 Togolese government is still ruled by the Eyadéma clan and relies on ethnically stacked armed forces to maintain its power. In Benin, a new civilian government has started the process of reprofessionalizing the armed forces.

Article

The Philippines has been beset by several instances of military mutinies since the end of the Marco dictatorship. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were also actively involved in pressuring the resignation of President Joseph Estrada and in propping up the presidency of Estrada’s successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The military’s actions suggested that that the armed forces’ influence in Philippine politics was on the rise. Since that time, with no instances of coups and mutinies under the presidencies of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Rodrigo Roa Duterte, military adventurism appears to be on the decline. Could it be that civilian supremacy is ascendant in the Philippines and the AFP have abandoned their “interventionist tendency” in civilian affairs? An examination of the patterns in post-Marcos Philippine civil-military relations in five domains—elite recruitment, public policy, internal security, national defense, and military organization—indicates that the AFP remain a highly politicized institution. Although institutional guardrails to preserve civilian supremacy have been instituted, with positive moves to professionalize and reorient the armed forces toward an external security posture, challenges in the areas of elite-dominated and clientelistic governance and the country’s protracted insurgencies remain obstacles to civilian political leaders’ authority over the military.

Article

Andrew Goodhart and Jami K. Taylor

For most of its history, the U.S. military has maintained a policy of exclusion toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people serving in uniform. The justifications for these exclusions have included the view that being homosexual or transgender is a psychological disorder, that it undermines military morale and effectiveness, and a fear that LGBT people would be vulnerable to foreign espionage. Explicit policies banning consensual homosexual sex—and excluding from service those who engage in it—date to the period between World Wars I and II, but de facto efforts at exclusion have existed since the early days of the republic. Regulations governing homosexuals in the military came under pressure in the 1970s and 1980s as societal views toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people changed, and those LGB service members discharged under the policy increasingly challenged their treatment in court. (Public pressure to change regulations governing transgender people in the military arose mostly in the 2000s, though litigation efforts date to the 1970s.) In addition to general shifts in public and legal opinion, the debate over LGB people serving in the U.S. military was affected by the experience of foreign militaries that allow LGB people to serve. United States law began to loosen formal restrictions on LBG people serving in uniform with the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 1994, but it still required LGB people to serve in secret. Changing public perceptions of LGB people and problems implementing the ban galvanized support for eliminating such restrictions. In 2010, President Obama signed legislation repealing DADT and removing all restrictions on LGB people serving in the military. However, transgender people do not enjoy the same rights. The Trump administration has revised Obama-era rules on transgender service members to enable greater exclusion. The issue is being contested in the courts and appears ripe for further political and legal dispute.

Article

David Darchiashvili and Stephen Jones

The balance between civil and military structures is central to understanding the development of Georgian statehood since the beginning of the 20th century. The first modern independent Georgian state was established after the 1917 Russian Revolution. The Democratic Republic of Georgia declared its independence in May 1918. In February 1921, the young republic was incorporated into the Soviet state and had no separate army of its own. Since regaining its independence in 1991, Georgia has experienced multiple administrations, and despite significantly different policies on the military, the overall pattern has been one of civilian (though not always democratic) control. Georgian militias and paramilitaries, between 1918 and 1921 and again between 1991 and 1995, played important roles in determining political power at times of revolutionary or constitutional crises. Since 1991 there have been three presidents - Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Eduard Shevardnadze, and Mikheil Saakashvili - with strong executive authority. In 2013, the position of president was made semi-ceremonial and a prime-ministerial system was instituted. Since 2013, there have been multiple prime ministers. Bidzina Ivanishvili was the first and the most powerful. All of Georgia’s leaders have shifted from a Soviet to pro-Western orientation. Since the second half of the 1990s, the relationship with NATO has grown closer, which has had a major impact on the structure of the Georgian armed forces and on their relationship with Georgia’s civil authorities. The 2008 war with Russia had a major impact on the Georgian military, and, since then, the level of professionalization of the Georgian armed forces has increased dramatically. Samuel Huntington, Eric Nordlinger, and other Western students of civil-military relations have pointed to the important balance required between civil and military authorities for a stable democracy. Georgia still displays continuing features of nepotism, clientelism, corruption, and dominant political personalities, which has significant consequences for the independence of the Georgian military and for civil-military relations more generally. Western states such as the United States and Germany, and international organizations like NATO continue to urge reform and provide training to the Georgian armed forces

Article

Counterbalancing is a coup-proofing strategy in which rulers divide the state’s coercive power among multiple, overlapping security forces to hedge against defection from the regular military. There is wide variation in the types of security forces that rulers use to counterbalance the military, including presidential guards, militarized police, and militias, as well as in the extent of counterbalancing rulers engage in. Since the late 1990s, scholars have made important strides in documenting the use of counterbalancing across countries and within them over time, and in understanding mechanisms through which it operates. Counterbalancing has become more common even as the risk of coup attempts has declined. It is most frequently employed by rulers in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and is least likely to be used in Latin America and Western Europe. While dictators are more likely to counterbalance their militaries than democratic rulers, counterweights have also been important to stabilizing many newly democratizing states. There is also important variation among authoritarian regimes in the extent and types of counterweights employed. Counterbalancing is thought to prevent coups by making it more difficult for potential coup plotters within the military to seize power. While coup attempts are underway, counterweights might impede coordination between security forces or create incentives for resistance to a coup. Statistical analyses of counterbalancing and coup outcomes suggests there is a strong, negative association between the use of counterweights and the success of coup attempts. However, there is less evidence that counterbalancing deters coup attempts. This may be because although counterbalancing makes coups more difficult to carry out successfully, it can also generate new grievances among soldiers who must compete with other security forces for funds, arms, and recruits. As a result, efforts to establish counterweights can provoke new coup attempts. Counterbalancing has also been associated with an increased risk of other forms of political violence including repression and civil war.